The WarnerMedia cable-news outlet will rename the two late-evening hours he has hosted for the past several years “Don Lemon Tonight,” replacing “CNN Tonight with Don Lemon.” CNN spokespersons did not respond immediately to queries seeking comment, but the new show moniker reflects something that has been evident for months — the anchor’s personality and emotional reactions to news events have become a bigger draw.
Lemon caused a stir late Friday at the end of his program when he suggested to viewers that the appearance marked “the end of an era” for his show. He later took to social media to tell followers he wasn’t leaving the network.
In a schedule posted online, CNN bills the revamped show as “Don Lemon brings you the biggest stories, newsmakers and spirited conversations of the day.” That’s not much different from the job he has been doing since he took the reins at 10 p.m. in April of 2014. Since that time, however, Lemon has steadily injected more of his personal take on issues into the program. The anchor recently appeared to scold colleague Chris Cuomo, for example, for giving air time to former Republican Senator Rick Santorum on his 9 p.m. show, who has come under scrutiny in recent weeks for remarks he made about Native Americans. In 2018, in the midst of a heavy news cycle dominated by former President Donald Trump, Lemon once opened a broadcast by saying. “This is ‘CNN Tonight.’ I’m Don Lemon. The president of the United States is racist. A lot of us already knew that.”
Lemon has long harbored ambitions of bringing a program to CNN that isn’t as bound by traditional news norms. “I would like it to be a little bit looser. I would love it to be like HBO. I would love to be able to say those things you never say on basic cable. I would love to be able to have those conversations the way Bill Maher does,” Lemon said during an interview with Variety in 2016. He even wondered at the time if putting a mature-audiences label on his program might give him more leeway to spur more freewheeling discussion.
CNN executives may have reason to indulge the anchor’s ideas. In the first quarter of 2021, “CNN Tonight” was the most-watched program at 10 p.m. among viewers between 25 and 54, the audience most coveted by advertisers in news programming. The performance marked the first time the show maintained that audience level for a full quarter. The program also notched its best average of total viewers — 1.89 million — as well as average among viewers between 25 and 54 — 556,000 — in the period.